Watching Thunderstorm 2.0, at the Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival, is like watching a thunderstorm out in nature, if real thunderstorms could actually get the lights and the sound to match up. Perhaps it is because we are living in the age of the iPhone X that “2.0” seems antiquated, but there is nothing outdated about Théâtre du Rêve Expérimental’s adaptation of Cao Yu’s classic early 20th-century drama, Thunderstorm.
Under the masterful direction of Wang Chong, the reimagining of this one-man-two-women tale of infidelity succeeds in reaching a contemporary audience not only through technological feats but through nuanced storytelling and a healthy dose of dark humor. Thunderstorm 2.0 is a melodrama the likes of which the Spanish telenovela can only aspire to, yet the elegance and acting prowess of the cast, led by Wu Zhen and Yu Shixue, allow a subtler theatrical reality to emerge beneath the sometimes absurd actions of the play.
The set, a beautifully imagined hybrid of traditional and contemporary elements designed by Li Yi, is divided into five sections -- four rooms in the houses where the action of the play takes place, and one large film screen that hangs above them. The film, which runs in tandem with the live performance and allows the audience a close-up look at the hairlines and hemlines of the actors as they move through the rooms of the set, runs nonstop from the top of show. Over half the cast double as videographers, setting up shot after shot of the action of the play, which is edited in realtime and played on the screen, complete with live action subtitles.
So seamless is the realtime video editing in the piece that a cut from one camera panning down an actresses body as she unbuttons her shirt, to anther actress unbuttoning the same shirt -- essentially the first actress’s real time body double -- goes unnoticed for so long that by the time the audience realizes that the actress we thought we were watching is no longer on camera, she has already re-buttoned her shirt and is getting ready for the next scene.
If the theme of infidelity and the surreal, perfectly executed technical feats aren’t enough to remind you to remain vigilant about keeping track of what’s real and what’s a ruse, two Pingtan musicians, Jiang Xiaobo and Xie Yan, not only play their traditional Chinese instruments, they narrate nearly the entire play. Xiaobo and Xie, whose jaunty narration and fast-plucked strings set a fast moving pace for this tight 60-minute piece, do find time to take an occasional break from the melodramatic action of the play to address the audience with a quip about Harvey Weinstein and our melodramatic reality.
In moments real, performed, and somewhere in between, the play was as thought provoking and heart melting as it was technically dextrous!